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Twitter Hoax Reveals What We Desire Most from Machines

Twitterers around the world received some devastating news: The Twitter account @Horse_ebooks, a cult favorite, was human after all.

For years, @Horse_ebook’s over 200,000 avid followers had been convinced its sometimes poetic, often nonsensical, frequently hilarious tweets had been the musings of a spambot created to elude Twitter’s spam detectors and peddle books about horses. There was something captivating about an algorithm that seemed so gifted at capturing the conundrums of our age. (“Everything happens so much” read one post, retweeted 8,500 times.)

Recently, that fantasy came crashing down. The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean revealed that two living, breathing homo sapiens had been composing the tweets as an art piece.

The disappointment that followed this crushing news stemmed in part from an indignation at having been fooled, and in part from the letdown at learning such witticisms had stemmed from people. We were rooting for the robot. We loved the idea that something we thought was meant to be a nuisance — to sell us things — could be so charming. Here, finally, was an algorithm that wasn’t just efficient, but actually was weirdly insightful.

Our dismay at finding that the bot was human actually reveals a great deal about we want from our devices: We’re rooting for the compassionate computer.

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